As many may feel on Boxing Day, Christmas over for another year. Weeks of preparation climaxed in just one rather short day, here on the Northern Hemisphere at least. As narrated on my last blog written on Saturday, we enjoyed a Christmas roast, only this was a combination of turkey and duck presented in a form of a Swiss-roll, and I must say, it tasted quite nice too. With the plate shared with roast potatoes, boiled carrots and Brussels sprouts - and yes, I'm very fond of Brussels sprouts, even from boyhood, and to this day I wonder why this particular species of vegetable is so disliked by children, and perhaps by many adults too, although I doubt whether green cabbage would have scored any higher. So we had red cabbage instead, something which took a long time for me to get around in trying, even if I had no problem with greens.
And of course, presents. An attempt to buy three grown-up nieces presents for Christmas without asking them is one heck of a challenge! As children, my contribution proved a disaster, and surely made it to the top of the Unwanted Present chart, and for many years since, I have given them gift vouchers. Maybe being male, and unable to discern the female tendency in thoughts and preferences, it wasn't until I was told that gift vouchers were mundane and very boring, that I had to change tactic. Maybe that is why I now board a train to London and head for Camden Town, where markets of miscellanea ranging from trendy clothing - leather items such as knuckledusters, which are gloves fitted with stainless steel spikes, along with leather belts with the same feature (both I bought for my wife for Christmas past), to a large range of trinkets, music, items of art, to foreign imported furniture - items from Egypt, India and China seem to feature well here. These are markets selling merchandise which would be very difficult to find elsewhere in the UK, and because of this, I get the inspiration for such unusual but very trendy items which has no practical use whatever, other than provide amusement as long as its batteries has within them an element of power.
Although meant for the garden, or in my niece's case, the balcony, the rotating sun reflector can also be hung indoors and powered by a battery-driven motor, as well as hooking up conical and spherical add-on's to give further enhancement. As a matter of fact, I have wondered why I had never bought and installed such a gadget in my own home. Maybe this may be a good excuse for another trip to Camden Town in the not-too-distant future. After all, we men love toys!
And so it was a relief to me that such a gift was well received. At least by the eldest, for the younger sibling - she is away at her boyfriend's family home located about fifty miles 80 km away, and therefore had not yet received the present, which is identical to the first. But if she does, then I'll be forever thankful to whoever dreamt up the idea of converting a series of disused warehouses cluttering the banks of the Regents Canal into such trendy grottoes of markets and restaurants. Believe me, for such a guy like myself, Camden Town is seen as a lifeline!
And so I watch parents buy presents, toys and games mainly, for their children, and I can visualise homes throughout the land, with excited children finding the night of Christmas Eve difficult to sleep, with the younger ones peering out of the bedroom window with the hope of catching a glimpse of Santa riding in his sleigh, pulled by a team of reindeer. The little fact that such a scenario is flying in the face of all physics connected with the Earth's gravitational pull does not even enter the child's mind, neither is the probability of each present being caught and swallowed by every domestic chimney pot or smokestack presents a major problem with the introduction of the modern central heating system.
But whatever difficulties Science imposes on Santa's mission, by Christmas morning the presents are there! A pile of brightly coloured wrapper conceals boxes which in themselves contain treasures that will excite these young hearts and to keep the children occupied throughout the day, and even through the holidays until school re-opens at the start of the term which would bring them to Easter.
A lovely thing to imagine as Alex and I open each other's presents this Christmas morning. She bought me a much-needed pair of slippers - something I could have easily bought myself any time earlier, but I wanted my wife to experience the pleasure. In turn she received a Bob Marley CD, along with the wall plaque with the decorated words I Love You printed on the taut canvass. She was over the moon with both of them. Where else to buy such items but Camden Town? But after the exchange of gifts, I became aware of the heavy silence in the house.
Heavy silence, a silence so loud that I'm almost deafened by it, whichever way you prefer to phrase it, had nevertheless brought my awareness of the hole in my heart, an empty cavity, the realisation that something is missing. Something very important to us is not here with us. That is our own three daughters, now ranging from ten to sixteen years of age. The first two were taken from us for adoption in 2005, which was before our third offspring was born. And that was before we learnt that we are both on the mild end of the Autism Spectrum. Behind all the joys of Christmas and everything that goes with it, including the weeks of preparation and gift-buying, the holidays has never been the same. The Social Worker involved, despite her academic credentials, knew nothing of Asperger's Syndrome, let alone how to diagnose its symptoms (it was discovered in us by an independent Psychologist a few months later).
No, this is not a letter of self-pity, neither is it a request for any pity or sympathy. Rather, it is a reminder that for a professional, to have such a syndrome can be, and I believe it was, equalled to that of a criminal. We are not criminals. We just have brains which are wired up for different social interaction towards others, including our children. And for this we had paid a price, a very big price, and it was felt once again as our home stands in still silence after we opened our presents on Christmas morning.